Thursday, 23 December 2021

I've moved this blog to Substack

I've moved this blog to Substack and changed its name to My eReader. I chose Substack because it is simpler to use its backend to manage content. This website will be deleted soon, so please update your bookmark to the following URL:

Monday, 20 December 2021

Exporting highlights and annotations in borrowed OverDrive ebooks

OverDrive developed Libby to simplify the borrowing of digital content from public libraries. Borrowed books in Libby sync to a Kobo e-reader. However, I noticed that the ebook reading position and highlights/annotations do not sync. If using a Kobo e-reader to read a borrowed ebook, activating the hidden export feature to extract highlights and annotations is necessary. 

Using the Libby app, there is a built-in feature to export content. It is possible to have content exported in HTML or spreadsheet format. The exported content is classified into three parts: 
  • The reading journey: This includes the ebook's meta-data (title, author, publisher, and ISBN) and the percentage of the book read. 
  • Highlights: The data includes the text of the highlight and any written notes. There is further information on the date, the chapter, the location, and the colour of the highlights. 
  • Circulation: This includes the dates the title was borrowed and returned. 
After exporting the content, it is possible to share the file to a cloud drive or email.

Sunday, 12 December 2021

Is Kobo Sage a note-taking e-reader?

What exactly is Kobo Sage? Kobo has created some confusion by releasing an e-reader that, on paper, is an update to the Forma. Yet, it is more than the Forma as it supports note-taking too. Is Kobo Sage, with its note-taking capability, a shrunken Elipsa? 

Further adding to the confusion is the small battery capacity (1200 mAh) for a note-taking e-reader. Note-taking consumes more battery than a conventional e-reader, requiring a bigger capacity. For perspective, other than Kobo Sage, the lowest battery capacity for a note-taking e-reader is the Onyx Boox Nova Air, which has 2000 mAh. 

As note-taking uses more power, there is no way around the problem of a 1200 mAh capacity. Consequently, this is confirmed in continuous note-taking that drains the battery in 2.5 - 2.7 hours. Another dimension adding to the confusion is the upgraded 1.8 GHz quad-core processor. Clearly, a better processor was chosen to support note-taking. Thus, Kobo has sent contradictory messages with these two conflicting hardware choices. 

According to Kobo, the Sage is an e-reader first. The added note-taking functionality is to provide the option to annotate e-books. If the user wants to expand battery capacity, it is possible to purchase the power cover. It is a strange decision as a hardware decision has rendered a key software feature - the ability to create and extensively write in notebooks - an afterthought. 

Kobo's logic is convoluted. It seems they first made an ergonomic decision to keep the Forma's slim profile, and thus a smaller battery was configured. The added note-taking feature is meant to differentiate and justify the updated model. With colour E Ink not ready, the other option is to support note-taking and a capable processor to support the feature was chosen. 

Friday, 5 November 2021

Onyx Boox Mira review: Features needed to balance clarity and speed

The Onyx Boox Mira is a 13.3-inches portable E Ink monitor. Onyx Boox also announced a larger 25.3-inches monitor. The smaller Mira has a resolution of 207 PPI (1650 X 2200), supports capacitive touch, and has three ports - two USB-C and one mini-HDMI. Onyx Boox promises a customisable experience to make the E Ink screen work for different use case scenarios. In reality, the monitor has been released without the necessary firmware support to make it work.

The screen

There is a noticeable difference in quality between Mira's screen and those on Onyx Boox's e-readers, with blacks slightly faded. On the upside, the 207 PPI resolution is crisp for a small monitor.

The front light is available in colder and warmer colours that can be mixed. While the front light is serviceable, it is not uniform with evident shadowing, and some parts are brighter than others (see picture below).

Onyx Boox Mira's front light

Limited potential

Due to the inherent limitations of the technology, an E Ink monitor's use cases are restricted. To overcome the issue with the slow refresh, Onyx Boox set different view modes - speed, text, video, and image (in the instruction leaflet enclosed with the Mira, these modes are normal, text, video and slideshow). These different modes aim to change the output's settings based on the user's task. There are three variables to consider that impact the output: 

  • Refresh speed: The higher the refresh speed, the heavier the ghosting. At the same time, the higher the refresh speed, the quicker the scrolling and mouse cursor movement. 
  • Dark colour enhancement: A contrast adjustment option that increases the darkness of colours. 
  • Light colour filter: An option to make lighter colours appear whiter.

Based on the above three variables, there is an option to choose one of the pre-configured modes that are optimised for specific use cases:

  • Speed mode is for general usage as the default refresh speed is high for mouse cursor movement, scrolling websites and productivity software. 
  • Video mode has a similar high refresh rate and increases the light colour filter to render greater detail in grayscale. 
  • Text mode renders output in black and white - there is no attempt to render colours in shades of grey. Thus, it is more suitable for text-based output. 
  • Image mode - also slideshow or presentation mode - optimises the quality of output. Thus, the output is rendered with more detail - the trade-off is a lower refresh speed (e.g., the mouse cursor is very slow in image mode). 

It is possible to configure a custom mode based on setting the scale for each of the three variables. However, even with the lowest refresh speed, there is still heavy ghosting with the slightest movement. As a result, pressing the monitor's full refresh button is constantly necessary for clarity. 

The problem of heavy ghosting in any mode is a primary example of the firmware not offering adequate support considering the limitations of E Ink. A remedy for the issue of heavy ghosting could be the provision of options to control full refresh relative to scrolling and mouse cursor movement. For example, one possible feature would be setting a full automatic refresh after dragging and then releasing. Another possibility would be applying A2 mode only when scrolling. Onyx Boox already supports both these features with their e-readers.

Further, to reach a better balance between speed and clarity, greater flexibility is needed for the user. For example, more refresh modes are necessary (fast mode, A2 mode and X-mode could be available and integrated into Mira's desktop software). 

Desktop application

Onyx Boox released an application to control the Mira monitor directly from a desktop environment. The application adds additional features to those available via the monitor's manual controls (see picture below). 

Onyx Boox Mira's desktop application allows the control of the monitor's output.

First, there is a feature to set a timer for full refreshes – the feature isn't helpful as it is too general and isn't integrated into the user's specific task. Thus, setting a timer for a full refresh in five-minute intervals is no different from pressing the monitor's full refresh button. Again, it doesn't do anything to remedy heavy ghosting before and after activating the full refresh. 

Further options include setting keyboard shortcuts to control the monitor's output (see picture below). Keyboard shortcuts can be used, for example, to activate a full refresh, adjust the front light, increase refresh speed, and change the contrast. The application also supports the adjusting of the front light and updating the firmware. 

The Mira's desktop application allows the user to configure keyboard shortcuts to control the monitor.

Finally, I noticed that changes made through the desktop application do not sync with the monitor's manual control menus and vice versa. 

Compatibility with the MacBook Air (M1 model) 

The Mira is fully compatible with Windows 10 (I connected the Mira to a Windows 10 2-in-1 with a touch display). However, there were compatibility issues when testing the monitor with a MacBook Air (M1 version). While touch input worked, pinch-to-zoom and scrolling using touch didn't (I tested the monitor with an iPad and had the same issue). Another problem was the E Ink screen producing a jittering effect when connected to the MacBook Air. 

The desktop application has a notification to install an update to remedy the MacBook Air's compatibility issues. However, after downloading the update, the problems were not resolved, and it was not clear if the update was installed (after going through the installation process, the notification to download the update still appeared). 

Extended mode

What is the ideal use case for the Mira or any E Ink monitor? In my view, an E Ink monitor is best used in extended mode as a secondary display. Due to the limitations of E Ink, many tasks are not viable. Hence specific tasks are to be chosen and then extended to the monitor. Word processing, some coding, PDF documents, and e-books are examples of suitable tasks.

Concluding remarks

Onyx Boox is known for producing note-taking e-readers with a rich and stable list of features. Thus, it is surprising to see Mira's firmware to be buggy and features restricted. 

The monitor's E Ink screen means the technology's inherent limitations need a set of carefully designed features to strike a balance between clarity and speed. At the moment, the activation of full refresh – whether manually or set to a timer – isn't adequately nuanced to resolve the problem of heavy ghosting that significantly degrades the clarity of the output. 

Added to the lack of features to manipulate the output are compatibility issues with the MacBook Air and the general bugginess of the desktop application. Overall, it appears the Mira was released before careful testing and planning on how to remedy inherent problems that come with operating systems not designed to work with E Ink screens. 

Saturday, 2 October 2021

Max Lumi's monitor functionality compared to Onyx Boox Mira

Onyx Boox sells two E Ink monitors - the Mira Pro and Mira. The Mira Pro is a regular-sized 23-inches monitor. On the other hand, the Boox Mira is a 13.3-inches portable E Ink monitor that weighs 590 grams. Considering Max Lumi's screen is 13.3-inches - the largest note-taking e-reader from Onyx Boox - and can be used as a monitor, shouldn't it be a better option? After all, the Lumi costs slightly more but has the added functionality of being a note-taking e-reader. 

I think it is not right to compare the Lumi to the Mira. The Max Lumi is a note-taking e-reader first and is not optimised to be used as a monitor. To use the Lumi as a monitor, it is necessary first to access a designated application. Accordingly, the monitor feature is baked into Boox's Android-based operating system - to customise the front light, change the display mode or contrast, it is necessary to use the application's settings. 

Other issues to consider is input lag, resolution optimisation problems, increasing battery damage and E Ink screen degradation. Of course, this is not to say an E Ink monitor will resolve these issues. Nevertheless, a purpose-built monitor can help with specifically designed features like setting refresh speed when scrolling, improving input lag, providing an optimised list of display modes and resolution scaling. Onyx Boox will also release desktop software to manipulate the display's output based on the use case. Working from within the desktop environment cuts the need for a third-party go-between (as with Lumi). 

The more significant issue is what can an E Ink monitor realistically offer? Technically, an E Ink display can play a video, but image degradation and ghosting mean it isn't a realistic option. As a niche product, the use cases of an E Ink monitor is some coding, light web browsing, word processing, general productivity like reading documents and accessing emails. Most of the noted tasks may work on the Max Lumi, but the experience is better optimised with a dedicated monitor.

Thursday, 23 September 2021

A purpose-built E Ink word processor

We have seen many products that utilise E Ink (some not appropriate considering the limitations of the technology), e.g., smartphones, monitors, note-takers, smartwatches and signage. However, one use case that hasn't been seen is a designated E Ink word processor. Onyx Boox e-readers - with their strong processors - can be used for word processing. However, it is necessary to use third-party applications developed for tablets and smartphones for word processing. Thus, the experience of using these applications is generally poor. 

What would an E Ink word processor look like? I don't think it requires the development of a new product altogether. An option would be developing a note-taking e-reader so that its form factor can support a smart connector that attaches to a specifically designed keyboard (like Apple's iPad keyboards). 

The most significant part of the development would be the software needed for a refined typing experience, i.e., no lag with text input and simplified menus. Other features required would be a spell checker, typesetting options, footnotes, creation of tables and cloud syncing. Further, an E Ink word processor app would add value to a note-taking e-reader as many users find it difficult to spend long periods in front of a light-emitting display when writing documents.

Monday, 20 September 2021

Six-inches is no longer the default e-reader size

Most of the early e-readers were 6-inches in size. Kobo tried to change things when introducing the Kobo Aura HD in 2013 with a 6.8-inches screen. As the larger screen size was relatively novel, Kobo marketed the Aura HD as the "The eReader, reimagined". Onyx Boox experimented with a 6.8-inches size when it released the T68 in 2014. The 8-inches Boox i86 followed in 2015 as Onyx Boox gradually moved beyond the 6-inches e-reader. 

However, in my view, Kobo - as an established vendor - with the release of the Aura One in late 2016, finally started an industry-wide move to larger e-readers. The 7.8-inches size was popular and followed by Boox's Nova series. Before the Nova series, Onyx Boox also released the N96 (9.7-inches) and Boox Max (13.3-inches) earlier in 2016.  Amazon - stubbornly keeping to the 6-inches size - released its first 7-inches e-reader in late 2017 (the Kindle Oasis 2). 

We still see 6-inches e-readers released, but they are now one option among others rather than the default size. With Amazon updating the Paperwhite with a 6.8-inches screen, the entry-level Kindle is now the only 6-inches e-reader they sell. I can envisage Amazon releasing an Oasis 4 with a 7.8-inches screen to further distinguish it as the premium Kindle. It took some time, but the move beyond the 6-inches size is a welcome change. Those wanting something compact can still find a selection to choose from, e.g., the Likebook P6, Onyx Boox Poke 3, Kobo Nia, Kobo Clara HD and the entry-level Kindle.